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Robot lawyer DoNotPay now lets you ‘sue anyone’ via an app (theverge.com)
98 points by denzil_correa 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

I wouldn’t advise anyone to use a service like this because it’s not privileged.

In other words if you suffered some kind of injury/damages and go speak to a lawyer your communications are privileged. Here you have some “chat bot asking you questions” and guess what, if you tell that chat bot something that is not true or hurts your case, the other side will be entitled to subpoena all communications and use it against you.

They are right there is a huge problem with education in this country (people don’t even know their basic rights or how to seek remedies when said rights are violated), lawyers are expensive, there is a natural barrier to entry into the courts...but for a company that wants to educate people, they don’t seem to mention the pros/cons of discussing your case with a non-lawyer like this chat bot.

> subpoena all communications

I was wondering about the same issue, but now I'm curious if this could be the solution. With no privilege, is there any requirement to store data? If not, can the app handle anything subpoena-worthy locally and without logs, then just phone home for something like "give me a Tenessee housing court non-return of security deposit filing with the following data filled in"?

For that matter, what is the subpoena-worthy content? It looks like the major use case here is to provide information which would be immediately public in court anyway. If you're submitting photos of your parking job and saying "was I parked legally?", then yeah, that could show up on a subpoena. But if you're just saying "I have a ticket I think was illegal, which court do I fight it in using what form?", I don't see any risk.

Yes, but a bot like this can help you dry rehearse and check out different outcomes

Then you can use a lawyer MUCH more effectively and use less hours, or WASTE less hours.

Right now lawyers are a black box of costs, efficacy and process. They get so many frantic people that they'll just say "it depends" for everything and collectively they have never bothered with having flow charts for any issue no matter how common.

There isn't even as much as a SCATTERPLOT of law firm:issues:to cost, just "it depends"

so, an app like this can help people with one of those prongs, and doesn't need to be relied on for the whole process. But can be.

not sure the app does what your think it does...in fact I have no clue what you even mean by “dry rehearse and check out different outcomes.” I don’t think the app is running any sort of simulation here, and if it did any result other than “it depends” would be a disservice to a client.

One reason a lawyer is going to tell you “it depends” is because that is always the right answer in law. Look at SCOTUS and how many cases are narrowly decided by a split court 5-4. How could any lawyer, or app, tell anyone with any reliability what would happen in a case? In fact that point is codified in all the Bars which have rules prohibiting lawyers from making any guarantees to clients on the outcome of cases. For example, maybe a defendant doesn’t answer and a default judgement is entered, well that will cost substantially less than a case where the defendant answers with affirmative defense and files a counter suit...an app isnt going to be able to determine that anymore than a lawyer. If you want a SCATTERPLOT ok here it is, whether your case is civil/criminal there is a >90% chance it won’t go to trial/verdict, and in civil cases the majority of the 90% of cases resulting in settlement will be confidential...so data from >90% of cases isn’t available for a lawyer or app to use.

> Look at SCOTUS and how many cases are narrowly decided by a split court 5-4.

Because it's a second-level appeals court with largely discretionary jurisdiction biased toward taking cases with unsettled questions of law (a factor which tends to weigh heavily in favor of them taking an appeal is a conflict between the circuit courts of appeal on a question of law), SCOTUS rulings are vastly deceptive on the degree to which legal outcomes are uncertain.

That’s just it SCOTUS is 9 Justices ruling on issues of law...Law...not fact, and yet they regularly find themselves split.

But it’s beyond the point because rulings aren’t the point, the point is it’s impossible for any lawyer to tell a client how a case will go, because no one knows how a finding of fact will go. Pick 12 random people, have them watch a verifiable video of events and you will still have a split on the finding of fact. But let’s assume there is a case with no issue of fact...you still can’t tell a client how the case will go/what it will cost...again maybe it’s a default judgment, maybe it’s a case with significant discovery, maybe it will get referred to mediation and settle...the same case, the same facts, the same law, can have different outcomes and when trying to factor in costs the outcomes are infinite.

> That’s just it SCOTUS is 9 Justices ruling on issues of law...Law...not fact

The Constitution disagrees.

> yet they regularly find themselves split.

The Supreme Court both passively and actively selects for cases that are on the edge. If it's not unusually uncertain, it's less likely to get even get to trial, less likely after that to be appealed from the trial court, less likely to have a petition for cert. filed after it's heard in the appeals court, and, in any case, near certain to have that petition denied even if it is filed.

The Supreme Court selects for the most uncertain tiny fraction of a percent of all legal cases in the US.

And, still, by a wide margin, the most common vote on cases decided on the merits is 9-0. Sure, 5-4 is the next most common and the 5-4 decisions get way more media coverage just by being 5-4 decisions, but 9-0 is still the most common.

Note sure where you are taking this thread, you are right 9-0 is the most common vote, but the majority of all cases are still split, either way the point is...do you think you can readily tell clients the outcome and legal fees of a case given case?

I think the answers will be no...it depends.

Can you tell them it will result in a default judgment? Can you tell them how costly just the discovery process will be? Can you tell them if the trial court will be the end or if there will be an appeal? Can you tell them if they obtain a judgment if the will have to pursue collection of the judgement through yet more litigation?

a lawyer at their own discretion could charge a new client $1,000 to fill out the simple forms this app can create for you

another $1,000 to give me the speech you just did, instead of a free consultation

and thats a problem for people and this app helps with that

My initial reaction is that this would just exacerbate the problem of frivolous lawsuits. On further reflection, I think that was my reaction mostly as a result of the marketing. It seems like there is a lot of potential for this to be used to help those who are being taken advantage of as a result of not knowing their rights as the article states.

Hmm, didn't immediately notice that this doesn't have a camera. I can see why they went that route, but this may nto be for me after all.

Why do you need a camera?

I think he's confused this thread with another about the Google Home Hub

Yup. I meant to reply to one of my other comments but apparently I wasn't paying attention.

I think the marketing for this app is poor. It should be focusing on knowing your rights and how to assert them, not "sue anyone".

The majority of people in a situation where they need this are not going to be searching for “what are my rights in situation x” they are going to be searching for “how do I sue” the end result is the same either way, so the app might as well chose effective marketing instead of idealistic fancies.

All press is good press. IMO There are plenty of products focused around "Knowing your rights". This gets to the point and it stands out.

The App is probably just a marketing scheme to promote their AI to real firms.

> "A chatbot called DoNotPay has saved motorists millions in parking fines."

Why does this so often get framed as though it is a good thing? Parking fines help regulate limited parking spaces. They're necessary and exist for a reason.

Because many municipalities issue various traffic and parking citations in bulk for revenue purposes.

I like this. I think more people should be taking businesses to small claims court when they get screwed over. Have you ever been part of a class action lawsuit and wondered why you only get like $3? Instead you can opt-out of the settlement and sue the company yourself, if you think you can make a convincing case that they owe you more money.

I like it also. But the point of class actions isn't to bring home big bank for the class members. It's to motivate the class action counsel who acts as a private state attorney (or whatever the equiv is in your jurisdiction) to protect the class.

Class actions are necessary today more than ever because the executive in my (your) state is conflicted and too beholden to the class defendant to act on your behalf. But thanks to a dumbass (term of art) application of the Fed Arb Act by way of boilerplate "contracts" in consumer matters class actions go away.

> Have you ever been part of a class action lawsuit and wondered why you only get like $3?

It's because a settlement represents the total damages divided among all class members, reduced to account for litigation risk. Would you have bought a PS2 if you knew Sony was going to take out the Linux feature? Maybe a fraction of the people who downloaded the Linux feature to play with it wouldn't have bought a PS2 without it. So you take their $300 in damages, multiplied by the 1,000 people for whom the feature made the sale, divided by the 10,000 people who just played with the feature. Then you discount for litigation risk. Is your class overly broad? Is your economics expert going to get thrown out on Daubert? There's lots of ways for the company to win that don't require it to prove "we didn't do the bad thing." That's how you end up with a $3 settlement.

The problem is the whole system is designed from the perspective of the lawyers rather than the customers.

If a company overcharged me $10 for a product, then as part of the settlement I should get at least $10. The company should also have to pay punitive damages, some of which could be used to pay the lawyers.

Instead we get a system where the total damage amount is often less than the company's profits on their illegal activity. Then lawyers take their fee, and then the remainder is divvied up and everyone in the class to get $1.57.

It is an absurd system: companies get off way easier than they should and customers get screwed even when they win.

> The problem is the whole system is designed from the perspective of the lawyers rather than the customers. If a company overcharged me $10 for a product, then as part of the settlement I should get at least $10. The company should also have to pay punitive damages, some of which could be used to pay the lawyers.

The lawyers would love this, because they work on contingency and would get paid more of their clients recover more.

> Instead we get a system where the total damage amount is often less than the company's profits on their illegal activity.

That's because the system is set up to protect the defendant. Absent exceptional circumstances, there are no punitive damages, so the most you can recover is, e.g. the amount of the overcharge. Then it is reduced from there to account for other factors. For example, damages are measured by the wrongful profits, not the total profits. If you sell a $1,000 laptop and make $100 profit, and you've engaged in price fixing, the $100 profit isn't on the table, only the difference between the $1,000 price and the hypothetical price in the absence of price fixing. The defendant's expert then says the price fixing only resulted in prices going up by $3, and the plaintiff's expert says it was more like $50, and the jury picks $5, because jury trials are usually held where the company has a presence and juries don't like to punish local companies. Meanwhile, there is a possibility that you get nothing because of various legal technicalities, which are in themselves justified but in the aggregate create a minefield to recovery.[1] So when the company offers to settle for $4, you jump on it.

[1] It's deeply rooted in the law that defendants should not pay for harms that were not caused by their conduct. So say you're a laptop manufacturer that engaged in price fixing. Plaintiffs present evidence showing that prices went up $50 after the price rigging meetings started. But it just so happens that around the same time a tsunami wiped out DRAM factories in Taiwan. Even if you have executive after executive testify "yeah, we totally were trying to raise prices by entering agreements with competitors," your damages expert can still carry the day by convincing the jury that your price fixing wasn't the culprit and that parts shortages caused by the tsunami were responsible for almost all of the increase in prices.

> If a company overcharged me $10 for a product, then as part of the settlement I should get at least $10.

This seems to misunderstand the concept of settlement.

A settlement is always going to be less than you are entitled to as a matter of right assuming everything you claim is true, otherwise, there's no purpose in settling rather than disputing the claims.

> Instead we get a system where the total damage amount is often less than the company's profits on their illegal activity.

There rarely is illegal activity established on the way to a settlement; yes, you could often get far more if you went to trial and proved illegal activity, but that would always be a significant delay, always add significant expense that might not be covered in a fees award (because costs and attorneys’ fees aren't automatically awarded to winning parties, that’s a separate fight that may or may not be won), and might fail entirely leaving you with nothing at all.

> A settlement is always going to be less than you are entitled to as a matter of right assuming everything you claim is true, otherwise, there's no purpose in settling rather than disputing the claims.

The first part is true, the second part is not, because it assumes zeros in both legal cost and opportunity risk; there is a minor effect regarding PR and precedent as well for companies and organizations.

Don't forget to subtract off the ~25% plus expenses that goes to the legal fees.

Sure, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the other factors. You probably wouldn’t be very happy with a $4 settlement instead of a $3 one. (And it’s not like going to small claims court is free, unless your time is worth nothing.)

What I need is a script to sue a John Doe #1 and Wireless Telecom Provider #1, get an order for the latter to de-anonymize the former as well as they are able, obtain default judgment for illegal robocalls, actually collect on it, and get an order to cease future robocalls.

Are a substantial number of illegal robocalls still made domestically? As I understood it, the TCPA actually has teeth and has worked pretty well, but has a few big holes.

The first was closed in 2013, when a "prior business relationship", which had come to mean "basically any purchase from any company", ceased to bypass the consent requirement.

The second, unclosed, is the high transferability or extendability of TCPA consent - the shady person calling you might be five transactions down from a legitimate-looking request and still be legally protected.

The third, perhaps uncloseable, is that lots of robocallers seem to get or spoof domestic numbers without actually keeping assets in the US. I can't imagine that the people calling half the country every day with spoofed Chinese embassy phone numbers are actually operating domestically. I don't know how this happens - do they contract with US dialers and lie about permission? Can they dial internationally and spoof to domestic numbers? But I'm pretty sure collecting is out of the question.

The people using fake numbers to tell me I won a free cruise might still be domestic, and it'd be awfully nice to make that stop, but most of this stuff seems to be hiding either behind or from the law.

Anecdotally I’ve seen a massive, like 10x, increase in robocalls the last few months.

Where does this stand on "practicing law without a license?"

Filing lawsuits doesn't require being barred, nor does offering legal advice.

Rather, lawyers have special status for a bunch of specific roles: they can be present with a party in court as counsel, their employment for legal advice creates attorney-client privilege, and they can carry out various other roles like exercising power of attorney.

In return, lawyers operate under a bunch of special restrictions. They're professionally liable for legal malpractice, they can be punished for operating outside of their barred jurisdictions (potentially even for things that a non-lawyer could do), and they can be liable for things happening under their attorney-client privilege. All of which is why they're so gunshy about giving advice to strangers online (which can imply an attorney-client relationship in a way that friends-and-family advice doesn't).

'Practicing law without a license', as far as I know, means someone who is not barred in a jurisdiction either taking any action reserved for barred lawyers or marketing themselves to clients in a way that creates an expectation that they are employing a barred lawyer. Things like 'legal advice clinics' with non-barred advisors are totally legal as long as they're clear about their status and lack of client privilege, and are pretty commonly staffed by law students.

An app certainly can't take actions reserved for lawyers, and wouldn't naturally imply privilege, so as long as nothing in the text suggests a human lawyer is generating personalized advice there should be no issues.

It is covered by the terms of service.

"DoNotPay provides a platform for legal information and self-help. The information provided by DoNotPay along with the content on our website related to legal matters ("Legal Information") is provided for your private use and does not constitute legal advice. We do not review any information you provide us for legal accuracy or sufficiency, draw legal conclusions, provide opinions about your selection of forms, or apply the law to the facts of your situation.

If you need legal advice for a specific problem, you should consult with licensed attorney.. As DoNotPay is not a law firm, please note that any communications between you and a DoNotPay may not be protected under the attorney-client privilege doctrine."

Cached: http://web.archive.org/web/20180625190236/https://www.donotp...

A computer program isn't a person. IANAL and don't know about precedent, but as with many things in law, this probably needs to be fought about in court before it's really clear.

Do Not Pay even creates a script for the plaintiff to read out loud in court.

Why does this feel like it gets DANGEROUSLY close to UPL?

For anyone else that also had no clue what UPL referred to, it's "Unauthorized Practice of Law": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Practice_of_law

I don't see how providing a script with the usual disclaimers is any different than receiving the same advice, with the same disclaimers, from an individual. The biggest difference seems to be scale as before a non-lawyer could give advice "in the small" (i.e. people they can actually talk to in person) but with technology you can reach thousands.

I don't see how providing a script with the usual disclaimers is any different than receiving the same advice, with the same disclaimers, from an individual.

When you say 'individual', are you implying individual attorney? Granted, I'm asking because I'd genuinely like someone who has credentials from their state bar (i.e. a licensed attorney) to answer this: their TOS says they are not a law firm, and that they are not providing legal counsel.

If your friend says "yeah man that sucks, you should sue those bastards for what they did to your car", no reasonable person would argue this rises to the definition of 'legal advice'.

But if your friend prescribes what exactly you need to say to a court in the context of legal procedure, when summoned to appear, this doesn't qualify as 'legal counsel'? That I'm curious about.

The first thing that came to mind for me was services like LegalZoom and they've had some experience dealing with UPL:



LegalZoom came to mind immediately, as well actually. Having not read your links (they're loading in separate tabs as I speak (edit: er...type)), was I mistaken thinking that at least LegalZoom has licensed attorneys at least on staff and several others in their 'network'?

I would be concerned with paying the court fees of defendants if this app turns out to be a frivolous case. Is that a risk?

Russians have discovered a brilliant work around for paying the defendant's fees when you file frivolous law suits.

First pick a country with a working rule of law. The US or UK are good choices, people there respect the law.

Now, make somebody up. This person needn't really exist, but they should be plausible enough for the foreign court to believe by default that they do, call them, say, Sergei Petrov. See, that's a Russian name, so why not. Sergei Petrov from, say, Moscow.

Now, hire expensive lawyers in the target country to sue the individual whose life you want to ruin. Tell them that lucky Sergei Petrov has a patron, who must remain anonymous but has given him money to sue the defendant because of how outrageous whatever it is they did was. Alas Sergei communicates only through typed letters and muffled telephone calls.

The lawyers will inform their court that Sergei can't travel, but they'll present his case anyway. The court will agree to hear the case.

The defendant spends lots of money on their lawyers. They win easily since Sergei's case is complete bunk.

The court says "Hey, this was frivolous crap, Sergei owes the defendant money!". Alas your lawyers will inform the court that Sergei has mysteriously vanished, as has the money of his anonymous sponsor. Oh dear.

Now, to be fair this costs the Russians lots of money - fancy foreign lawyers are expensive, and of course they tacitly know this is a scam so they'll charge plenty to help facilitate it. But the defendant is left out of pocket and stressed. So it's effective for annoying people.

> ... fancy foreign lawyers are expensive, and of course they tacitly know this is a scam so they'll charge plenty to help facilitate it.

I would hope that knowingly being a part of something like this is the type of thing that gets one disbarred.

The solution to this seems trivial, no? Don't allow cases to be brought in courts if the identity of the plaintiff can't be verified?

By court fees do you mean court costs? IANYL but probably yes in my state anyway (FL). Defendant's attorneys fees and expenses? Sanctions? Probably not unless it's egregious.

Based on the reviews, I'm not convinced this app is ready for prime time. https://fnd.io/#/us/ios-universal-app/1427999657-donotpay-by...

Might be interesting if collectively they sued the app and sent it into a loop.

Is the "robot lawyer" licensed to practice law? It's one thing to publish a parking ticket script. It's another to actually file lawsuits on someone's behalf. Once he clears the regulatory hurdles, there might be a place for more legal automation on the client side.

Great Idea for an app. I wonder when they will have an android release. And if they are hiring.

Seems like OS discrimination. You should sue.

yes they are hiring per the CEO's linkedin headline and presumably for that role.

I want this but to cancel byzantine gym memberships and other reoccurring charges. Currently trying to cancel a gym membership that won’t answer my calls, reply to letters and insists I have to come in person from 3000 miles away.

In some cases, this might be your app? Past a certain point, "take them to court or threaten to do so" can actually be easier than dealing with the company directly. Or, though it's a bit riskier, cancelling your payment mechanism and disputing things if they try to send you to collections or ding your credit score.

The much-maligned Google assistant did sound tempting for this, though. Something willing to call every single day and sit on hold indefinitely to convey a simple message would be awfully useful for the less-illegal forms of membership stonewalling.

> I want this but to cancel byzantine gym memberships and other reoccurring charges.

Ask your credit card company to issue a new card, and file chargebacks for charges that came after you attempted to cancel the service/membership. At the very least, that might get the attention of someone at Byzantine empire.

(For those prognosticating on whether this is unauthorized practice of law, there is a lot of history and caselaw from when will generation software, etc, first started becoming available)

Don't worry, soon enough all the companies we deal with will have made giving up your Constitutional rights a non-negotiable requirement for doing business with them.

> DoNotPay is the brainchild of Joshua Browder, who initially created it to dispute the dozens of parking tickets he was racking up when he was 18.

Ah yes, let's make it even easier to flood the already overloaded legal system with frivolous lawsuits because you are the kind of person who can't be bothered to not park in a handicapped spot or drive under the speed limits.

The assumption that parking tickets are usually avoidable and legitimate is understandable, but surprisingly far from true. The assumption that the legal system is overloaded as a single entity that's stressed by all new cases is also untrue.

One of the most ticketed spots in Chicago was a mind-bending mess of conflicting signage: it was a cab stand except when it was metered parking with a digital meter nowhere near the spot, which took money and issued city parking receipts for times when it didn't govern any legal parking spaces. Matt Chapman dug through ticket data to find this, asked the ward to clarify the signage, and annual ticketing there fell by half, saving $60,000 per year. Not exactly intentionally parking in handicapped spaces, is it? [1]

Of course, those were still legal tickets. The NYPD kicked things up a notch by simply failing to understand the city's parking laws. Parking in front of pedestrian curb cuts in NYC is legal if those cuts don't connect to crosswalks. Ben Wellington got a ticket for parking in one of those spots, and decided to see how many other people it had happened to. Rough estimate? Ten thousand illegal tickets per year, costing New Yorkers $1,700,000. And apparently an honest mistake - once Wellington raised it with the NYPD, they offered a reasonable explanation and promptly fixed the problem! [2]

Finally, these are not the sorts of cases which are overloading the legal system. Criminal charges in big cities consistently take more than a year to reach trial, even for very simple cases, and even simple bail or motion to dismiss hearings can take a shocking amount of time. But those suits do not funge against disputed parking tickets, rent payments, or bank fees, which are handled in traffic, housing, or small claims courts that are nowhere near as overloaded or urgent. And with high rates of summary judgement, mediation, and self-representation, those courts don't even have a substantial impact on the price of legal aid for plaintiffs elsewhere. [3]

Frivolous lawsuits and overloaded courts are very real problems, but an app that helps people represent themselves in the face of inappropriate tickets is not a meaningful contributor.

[1] https://mchap.io/using-foia-data-and-unix-to-halve-major-sou...

[2] http://iquantny.tumblr.com/post/144197004989/the-nypd-was-sy...

[3] https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/02/opinion/waiting-and-waiti...

While that writeup of Chicago parking tickets was relevant to me (I live in Chicago), I made a bet with myself when I read your comment that 1000 block of State St. would be one of the highest ticketed zones.

Glad to see I wasn't wrong.

Wow. The ticket numbers in that article were surprisingly high, but I still wouldn't have expected that natives could guess the highest-ticket zone in advance. State Street is hugely high-traffic, obviously, but if you asked me to predict the highest ticket block in my city I don't think I'd have a hope.

(Hmmm... now I want the answer. Time for a FOIA request of my own perhaps?)

Eh I work off State so walking to/from work or lunch I see a LOT of those orange envelopes on lots of cars, plus having a desk right near a window means seeing lots of busy parking attendants. I just sort of guessed wildly heh

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